MOUNT JACKSON – Despite both town and county planning department approvals, code violations and dysfunctional additions are forcing a landowner to apply for a variance.

Tom Galati, principal of TG Land Holdings, which owns the property at 5930 Main St., filed site plans with the county and the town to improve his property. One piece of that development, a detention pond, has led to a need for a variance, allowing Galati to install a fence that does not run the length of the property line, according to neighbors Ronald and Micki Zerkel.

The Zerkels, along with their attorney Robert Light, argued at a recent Board of Zoning appeals meeting that the town should not grant the variance because the pond, which Galati had installed with the permission of the county, was forcing the variance. Light told board members that Virginia’s code doesn’t allow a variance to be granted if the cause is “self-inflicted.”

Galati and Wayne Dinges, owner of Massanutten View Enterprises, contend the pond isn’t the issue.

Light said if the pond wasn’t there, Galati and Dinges would not have to apply for a variance, arguing the presence of the pond, within a 20-foot setback between the two properties, is the issue at hand.

Ronald Zerkel said he doesn’t understand how work on the property, including an addition to the building, adding a parking lot and building the pond, was approved and who approved the plans.

Town Manager Kevin Fauber said the town reviewed and approved plans for the building addition and parking lot but the county was responsible for approving the pond.

“I approved the plans for the addition knowing that they had to come back for the plans for the parking lot,” Fauber said. “When they did that, then it kicked into they needed to take care of the drainage there on the site. That’s when they came up with the plan for the detention basin.”

Brenna Menefee, the code specialist for the county, wrote in an email that the county was responsible for following up on both the building addition at the site as well as issuing the permit for the pond and ensuring the engineer’s report was valid.

“A Land Disturbance Permit consists of an Erosion and Sediment Control Plan designed by a licensed engineer,” she wrote. “The county is responsible for conducting inspections to verify that the approved plan is being followed.”

Despite the county’s approval, the pond is causing problems, both in form and function.

Fauber said there aren’t any town code violations related to the pond, but Robert Whitehurst, a board member, said there are drainage issues.

“I went and looked at the property last week; there are multiple issues affecting [the Zerkel’s] property,” Whitehurst said at the meeting. “The watershed, it doesn’t look like it's going in the pond; it looks like it's going around the pond and into the 30-foot right of way.”

The pond is set within a 20-foot buffer that the town code calls for between the business-zoned Galati property and the Zerkel’s residence. Because of the pond’s placement, Galati has to apply for a variance, allowing him to construct a fence that does not run the length of the property line.

The board members declined to rule on the variance request but questions about the approval process for some of the work on the TG Land Holdings property arose during the discussion.

Whitehurst said there are a number of code violations on the TG Land Holdings property that need to be addressed before a variance is even discussed.

“Multiple things need to be fenced ... trash cans, loading dock,” Whitehurst said. “There are multiple issues going on with this property, and I don’t think we can pass any kind of variance.”

Board of Zoning Appeals Chairman Charlie Dodge said he wanted to table the variance issue until the town’s attorney can be present. Whitehurst said he thought the various code violations should be fixed before any variances or other work is approved on the site.

“Until these other things are fixed or some kind of agreement is come up with, we don’t need to move forward,” he said. “There are water issues. This project is negatively affecting [the Zerkel’s] property and that cannot happen.”

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